Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A New Job

I would think that the prerequisite for getting a new job is quitting your former one, but that is not the case!  I still work with old people one day a week, and will be increasing that to two days to cover when someone else has to be away for a few months.  I also still volunteer in the school, and will be covering a medical leave there in two weeks - yay, I get to teach kindergarten!!!

But, my poor husband has been struggling trying to get everything done in managing the office and meeting deadlines as well as everything else involved in what we do.  We had hoped for some help to arrive, but it didn't work out.  We did get a very young guy as a new IT type of help, but he takes a lot of training at the moment.  Then our office volunteer quit (which may have been a good thing as she was messing up more than she was helping, but God bless her heart for trying!)

So I took a look at the office and decided to jump right in.  I now work three days a week doing admin. assistant type of jobs.  For the first two weeks, I decluttered my workspace.  The previous volunteer kept every scrap of paper we produced in the last five years! Ugh.  She also kept copious hand written notes on how to do everything, but they make little sense as the technology changes so fast.  This week, I've learned the basics of a few tasks and am doing them well.  Now I have to organize two other rooms - a storage/stock type of room and the office where the new IT guy will be sharing with our bookkeeper.  Since it had been only half used for several years, it had piled stuff in there.  All sorts of stuff. 

Right now, my new job is a little like Sudafed.  I am a decongestant.  I get rid of "stuff".

I'm enjoying making order.  Now if only it could be made at my house!  I'm finding this working mom thing to be a little exhausting, even though I am home in time to pick up my kids.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Walking Through the Lie

I knew it as soon as I asked, but I still recoiled from it anyway.  This lie goes deep.  It is not one I am unfamiliar with at all.  What makes it so much harder to face this time is that it wasn't a complete lie.  It came true.  The fact that it came true was terrifying to me.  As if you woke from a horrible nightmare of being killed and found a stranger in your room at night - the fear just intensifies.  I actually recoiled from the force of it.

I had been through some very traumatic things in my childhood - abuse, constant moves, a divorce in our extended family that shook us, some other things that would take too much space to explain.  We had hit some trauma too as adults - our daughter's death, health issues, marriage troubles, etc.  I had had to face many of these things alone.  I was never given much support in coping with most of it.  I built strong walls around my heart because I knew that people didn't care.  People hurt.  If I kept people out, I didn't have to be hurt when they didn't care because I would not know.

But I grew and I began to take my walls down.  It's been good.  But there was that fear - what if I take my walls down and people hurt me?  What if I let people in and they abandon me?  What if when I am hurting, they walk away and I know they never cared in the first place?

The thing that was so difficult in this trauma was that some people did just that.  Some people knew that I was hurting and did nothing.  Some people abandoned me when I was crying.  Some never even cared enough to see that I was crying.  Some hurt me - almost vicious attacks.  (I think those came out of their own insecurities and pain - but that doesn't negate the effect it had on me.)  Some people acted just like I feared.  It was like waking from a nightmare to the horror of it being a reality.

That was hard to face.  To look those facts in the eye and say, "yes, it did happen".  To not run screaming from those facts wanting to hit out at anything or bury my head in the sand and try to numb the fear.  To face them and say, "yes, it did happen."  There was some truth to those lies.  And it hurt.

I just sat silent with that thought in front of God waiting.  I knew He wasn't done talking to me.  It was as if He was saying, "pick it up, handle it, turn it around and look at it from different angles, see it".  It did happen.  Face it head on.  I've learned that the best way to deal with pain is to deal with it.  To let it be.  Not to run, not to flinch, not to duck, but to handle it, to experience it, to let it be.  Eventually, either you grow stronger or it subsides.  So God and I looked at the pain together - the awfulness of my nightmares coming true.  It hurt.  Then we set it down, and I was silent, waiting some more.

Then God asked, "Where was I?"  The quietest little peace began to bubble up inside me.  "You were there."  He was.  Those closest to me who should have responded either didn't or even attacked when I had a clear, visible need.  That deeply hurt.  It cut deep down to my original wounds and questions, "Am I valuable?  Does anyone really care?  If people really knew me, would they reject me?  Would anyone really want me if I was needy and had no use to them, only raw needs?"  Sadly, that ended up being answered in a negative way in many key relationships.  That fact has permanently altered some relationships.  There is real pain in that.

But..... (I've learned that God always has a 'but' waiting.)

Where comes the redemption is this: God did not fail.  He didn't, and He has been gentle, consistent, and persistent about proving that to me over this last year and a half.  There is a sadness about those who failed - I think God Himself is sad over those actions, but they do not define God.  He's quietly insisted, "That was not Me.  That was not Me."  And just as quietly, He's shown Himself through others.  What I've learned is to watch for God where I least expect Him - like in the parable of the Good Samaritan -  God has His hands and feet and arms.  He will be there - when we hurt, when others fail, when we are left all alone in pain.  He's still there.

He'll be there in the scruffy musician next door that knocks at midnight with a hug.  He'll be there in the young mom who dropped everything to bring me food at nine pm on a day when no one had come.  He'll be there in the strength of a young army widow who phoned late that evening when I was curled in a fetal position alone on my kitchen floor - able to speak out of her own pain to comfort me and get me to stop heaving with nausea and laugh until tears came.  He'll be there in the arms of a teacher to let me lean against him and to hold my oldest son when he needed a man's arms.  He'll be there in the tears in the eyes of a flight attendant and their concern for me on a long flight when my strength was wearing out.  He'll be there a year later in the young mom who heard my heart in what we went through.  He'll be there in the series of coincidental meetings He arranges.  He'll be there is the arms of a man who knows what it is like to walk through trauma, and the ears of a woman who could hear the details and speak wisdom with gentleness.

So I looked up with that small peace bubbling up in my heart and smiled. "You were there."

I was thinking this morning as I wrote this all down about this post I had written earlier this summer.  That the root of lack of trust is a fear of vulnerability.  It went on to explain that actually the cure for the fear of vulnerability is actually vulnerability.  (It sounds strange, but it isn't.  The cure for fear of heights is to experience heights.... although I have NO desire to be cured from my fear of spiders!)

It said that we think we have to wait until something is proved trustworthy before we trust.  That we have to know we won't be hurt in order to trust.  The truth is that we can choose trust and risk being vulnerable because we learn something about being hurt - it is survivable.  We fear hurt because we think it will destroy us, so we shrink from it.  What we learn from going through hurt is that we can survive being hurt.  When we've learned that, we realize that we are able to be vulnerable because we are strong enough to risk and deal with some hurt.  We are strong enough to survive when people hurt us, so we can afford to risk. 

Trust.  Just like everything else we learn by doing it.  We don't learn running by watching running.  We don't learn trust by watching trust.  We learn running by running, and yes, it hurts at times.

The quiet peace is growing in my heart.  Peace at the realization that even when people fail, God does not.  I learned two things going through this: One, that God will not fail even when some of His people do and Two, that I can survive even when people fail, primarily because of the first thing - God will not fail.

I have walked through the fear and come out alive and stronger on the other side.  It is a lie - even if it had some truth mixed in it like the original lie did.  It is a lie and I do not need to believe it.  I will not be left alone in hurt even if some people do chose to walk on by.  God has not and He always shows up - just sometimes in the arms of a stranger.

Rats Come where there is Garbage

The last piece of these interesting meetings that God was arranging came just recently.  The family who had to get their visas came up to stay with us.  We had the typical long day drive and dealing with visas thing to do - plenty of talking time.  They again asked to hear the story.

I was interested this time as I listened to my husband and I tell the story again how the telling had changed.  We were getting deeper into it - able now to pull up the emotions associated with different parts.  More aware of each other's emotions of different parts of the story.  The facts had not changed, but we were able to express our feelings on the story as we went through it.  We never did finish, but that was ok.... the day was chaotic.

Here, though, an interesting and a needed thing for me came out in my husband's story.  This time, when he talked, he mentioned the actions of our director and how painful they were for him, how they had destroyed much of the relationship between them.  He said he still has a relationship, but it is built more on loyalty than an actual relationship now.

I needed to hear that.  That was important for me to hear.  No longer was the world around me all either defending this man or silent on him.  That silence and defense of him just because of who he is hurt.  When you are put in a balance and come up as insignificant so that a fault against you is not worth as much as the worth of someone else, it hurts.  But to hear my husband say that it hurt him, and to say that how he treated his wife was not right.... there was some healing in that.  Not vindication against him, but a quiet siding with me - you are valuable enough to me that I care when you are hurt.  He also was hurt and was admitting it.  It is hard to explain this one, but it was critically important to me - to have my husband chose to side with me.  Not to side against someone, but just to side with me, to identify with me.  There has been times he hasn't especially where this man is concerned, and this felt good.

Our visitors shared in a team meeting (if you come to visit, we will make you speak to the team!) about the course that they run.  They may come back and run it with our group.  (Again, it shows the growth and change in my husband's thinking that he is pushing for this now.  A few years ago, he would have brushed it off as "different" and "not important".  Now he is pushing for it even though he says he knows our director won't be totally behind it, but will do it if my husband insists, and he is going to insist.)

Our visitor drew a picture of a house with garbage in it and rats eating the garbage.  Then he asked, "What do you need to do to get the rats out of your house?"  Obviously, if you set a trap and catch a rat, more will just appear.  You need to clean up the garbage.  He asked us what the rat were.  People guessed sin or demonic influence or temptation.  Then he asked what the garbage was.  People scratched their heads.  I knew because I had heard him talking before, and knew where he was coming from.  Then he asked us what caused the first sin in the Garden of Eden.  It was because of a lie.  Satan told Eve a lie, and then she was tempted and sinned.  Lies cause sin and lies give the devil room to work in our lives.  Jesus said, "You will know the truth and the truth will make you free."

If we simply confess our sin, we are forgiven and clean, true.  But we so often go right back to the same sin.  It is because we are believing a lie and that lie is holding us captive to that sin.  Maybe it tells us we need something, so we look for it.  Maybe it is a lie that causes us to fear, so we act to defend ourselves.  Maybe.... there are a lot of lies.  The point is to find the garbage that attracts the rats and clean it up.  Truth leads to freedom.

This was not new teaching to me, but I liked the way he presented it and backed it up with Scripture (he had a lot more in there - I just gave the Reader's Digest condensed version).  I sat watching others take it in and just observing.

The next day, as I was driving in to work, I thought back over the day and all the days leading up to this one - all the little meetings God was arranging and how I was starting on the steps that led to healing of those wounds from the trauma.  I was just quiet with God asking Him where He was leading, listening.  Then I remembered what our visitor had been saying about the lies.  I just asked God, "What is the lie that lies buried here causing all this pain?"

Almost as soon as I asked it, I knew the answer.

Step by Step

I had wanted one more thing - to be able to tell someone in our mission group the basics of what happened.  To alert them to the fact that we need some system that works, something so that no one faces silence in trauma again.  But now I was able to say it without the weight of unshed tears.  I got my chance that evening while watching a football game with one of the leaders.  It only took five minutes and was said without pain behind it, but it was good to say that.  To say, "hey, can we do better next time."  To also be able to say, "It was special to meet this one man this afternoon."

Then we left.  God still wasn't done yet.  He had a few little meetings up His sleeve.  On the way home, we stopped at some friends.  They had to leave their country for some visa issues, so we invited them to stay with us.  They work now in pre-sending member care, and what they have set up is interesting.  They run a whole program of inner healing and some other things I don't know yet.... but they are in member care, having been on the front lines and realizing that we can't send wounded workers out, provide them with little support, and expect good results.

But first we had a conference with another group.  This one was interesting for me... I don't know these people well at all, but hold them in respect.  We were asked to come and report to the leaders of their group at a anniversary conference.  We went, and it was meeting after meetings.  Interesting, but I am a little shy and feel awkward, so to be surrounded by strangers can be uncomfortable.  You know what the common advice is in high school speech class?  "Just imagine them all in their underwear." (Why that would make me more comfortable, I never could figure out!)  But late that first night, we got almost that chance.  The hotel we were staying at had a fire alarm set off, so at midnight, we all assembled downstairs... most of these people who had looked so dignified earlier were in their pajamas with whatever they could grab thrown over.  I had fun admiring all their different pjs, but was thankful that I am a night owl and was still dressed!

In this conference, they asked me to speak to what it was like on the family.  Honestly, no one had ever asked that before, so I had to think.  Later, several came up to thank me for sharing, and three wanted to hear the rest of the story.  It was good to tell it to women who could relate to some degree and were willing to listen.  But then, one of those sat with me later and heard the story of the difficult conflict that happened at our team debriefing.  God has people He chooses for specific things, and this was His timing.  It was a relief to say what had happened to someone who knew well the situation and people types involved.  She was not only able to hear me, but to understand, and then at the end, she offered me a chance of something to do.

I had been feeling helpless.  It is hard to solve a conflict with some people.  This one is simply too busy to slow down, probably unaware of the pain he caused because he is largely unaware of people's emotions and how his actions affect others.  He is single-minded and narrow-focused, so he doesn't see people at all unless he needs them. I doubt he will ever see what he did or how his action hurt both of us.  So there will likely be no solving it.  For my personality type, that is difficult.  I like to solve conflicts - whatever it takes, let's tackle it and solve it.  So I had felt helpless and frustrated.  This woman who listened gave me an option of something to do.  She volunteered to do it with me.  It was a really good idea.  I will do it.  I felt immediately relieved... sort of like hitting that wall in labor where they say you can finally push (sorry, hoping mostly moms are reading this - you will know what I mean!) - where the awful pain of enduring can be changed to the pain of doing something, and that something may bring an end to it all.  I didn't do it then because I still needed a few more steps, but I could see God was leading me there step by step.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Laugher, Being Heard, and Being Held

It was the next meeting that I finally woke up and realized that God was setting up little appointments and working on healing the wounds inflicted during the trauma and recovery.  But before that meeting, came a few small ones.

I met up with a lady who used to be our member care person.  We ate lunch surrounded by her kids - one of them being a boy with ADHD.  So fun.  Thankfully, as a mom with slightly ADD boys of my own and having tutored ADHD kids, I am not too phased by them and managed to carry on two totally different conversations at once.  We didn't talk too much, but she encouraged me to talk to one man.  Yeah, right.  I just don't go up to strangers, especially ones who ... well... who are sort of well known people, and talk.  It just isn't me.

That evening, we went to a banquet at our organization.  We ended up at a table with two other couples who are half as crazy as we are and someone started telling jokes.  We were tired and the jokes were funny, and we ended up belly-laughing for most of the evenings.  Seriously, we were so loud I thought we were going to get kicked out!

Laughter is good for the soul.

Then I met a woman I had met back in May of this year and had dumped a lot of questions and anger on her.  She was thrilled to see me and gave me a big hug.  I was happy to see her too.  We didn't talk, but a hug communicates love.  It also communicates that she hadn't forgotten me.  She said, "I was so hoping I'd get to see you!"

But the evening ended and the next day we went to a service on Sunday morning.  Interestingly, the speaker was a leader who was talking about how something happened in his life and he realized that he needed to change how he was behaving because he was going to be causing wounding to those under him.  I needed to hear that that day - that there are leaders who become aware of that and care to change.  He also laughed about an incident where he was in the hospital and the indignity of having to undress in front of a nurse.  I smiled at that.... later I told him that we see things differently.  We do not see lack of dignity at all.  We have already set honor on them for being a person, and when we are invited into their embarrassment, pain, and suffering, it is intimate and a privilege.  We never see a naked person, we only see a person clothed with honor, no matter what they are going through, no matter what they are or are not wearing.  But I know people can be embarrassed when I have to do some things.  I feel for them, but I have already decided that they have dignity and honor.  It is what allows me to treat people the way I do.

But that was not the best that the day had.  Later that afternoon, in the middle of a very boring wrap-up lunch, the man who my friend had suggested I talk to came and sat at our table.  I had not even known he had been aware of our situation or what had happened at all.  But he knew people who knew us and he sat and talked.  Then most people left, and he was talking with one man.  When that man left, he turned back to the table to get his things and I decided I would take a chance.  I said, "Can I ask you two questions?"

I asked, "How do you recover from trauma, as in how long does it take?  And the other question is, did our group take care of you afterwards?"  He looked at me and said, "Groups are made of people, and people all do different things."  I am not easily distracted or brushed off, so I repeated my last question again.  He sat down.

Then we talked - probably for only five minutes, but we talked and it was good.  I will not blog about that because it was a private conversation.  Then he said he had to run.  Someone was coming to pick him up to catch his plane.

I sat at the table for a few minutes thinking about what he said.  There was a sense of relief and of being understood.  He had told me a little of his journey through trauma, and heard some of ours.  He validated some of the feelings and gave me a map.... remember I said so often going through this that I had no idea which way the path led.  No one had been able to tell me.  This man did.  And he also heard my disappointment with what he had been offered in the way of help and said that it was not right.  But he gave me most of all hope.  Understanding and hope.

After a few minutes, I left the boring wrap-up meeting and went to pace in the foyer.  I did not see this man, but he saw me and came back.  We talked for a few more minutes while waiting for his car.  When it arrived, he said, "I need to give you a hug."  So he gave me a hug, held me, and talked some more.  Then he let me go, and began to load his suitcases.  When he was done, he came back to me and said, "I need to just give you another hug."  He held me again and told me to keep going.  He told me about some things that were still hard for him, and that he still cried.  We both were inches away from crying, just little tears and sniffles.  I said that I will survive, but he said no, you were made for more than surviving.  You were made to be beautiful and to thrive... don't settle for surviving.  I chuckled and said, "Well, this year we survived, this coming year, I'll work on thriving."  He laughed and said that he knows what that is like.  It was ok to just survive in the beginning.  He had let me go, and put more stuff in the car, but then he he came back, reached out, and pulled me close again and just held me, my head resting on his shoulder.  He held me until the little shuddering sniffles quit and I drew a deep relaxed breath.  Then he ran to catch his flight.

I walked back in the building, sat for two minutes, but then told my husband I was going to go nap.  I walked back to our housing, and on the way, I began to smile while tears fell.  I got to my bed, crawled in, and sobbed myself to a deep, peaceful sleep.  Something had changed.  I wasn't jittery any more.

I thought about it when I woke.  I pondered over it while I got cleaned up to go for supper.  There was nothing major said, no big secret, no great wisdom.  What had happened was that someone, while listening, had pulled me close and held me. 

I just needed to be held.  Heard and held.

See some things had happened in the trauma and recovery that had made it more difficult for me.  My two best friends were out of town.  My team never came.  No one was there in the rough days to wrap their arms around me.  Now my son's teacher did those first hours when he came to get my daughter.  His hug calmed me enough to think and be able to pull myself together initially and care for my kids.  Then I went an entire 24 hours entirely alone.  No arms to hold me.  No comforting person with me.  I ached to be held.  But I was alone.

One other time, on the Sunday, a friend came over.  She only stayed two minutes since she had to go back and dress her kids, but she came only to give me a hug.  I needed that hug that day to calm my nerves and give me enough strength to make it through going to church.

The next day, at midnight, my neighbor found out and he came over in the dark at midnight because he said, "I just needed to give you a hug."  I needed it then to focus my attention on the getting everyone ready for me to fly out and meet my husband.  Being held is a powerful way to calm me down and let me process my emotions and get on track.

Then came the week we spent with the men right when they got out.  This is where things began to go really wrong.  There are lots of reasons for all of that, and I won't list them all here.  But nerves were on edge, and we were not given peace by our director.  That first night, something happened, and I ended up sobbing.  No one came... well someone did, but she just looked at me, said something, and walked away.  I ended up crying alone until I ran out of tears.  Earlier in the day, when my husband had arrived before I did, a friend of mine was there to give him a huge hug and let him cry on his shoulder.  While I wished I could have gotten there in time to meet his plane, I was so happy that someone held him.  But when I needed to be held, no one did.  Later they told me that, "well, it might have been inappropriate" and "we thought you didn't like hugs".

I went the whole time, desperately needing a hug... needing arms wrapped around me so I felt safe again, so I could stop shuddering, and draw a breath and relax.  But no one held me.  That hurt.  It hurt then.  It hurt day after day.  It hurt when I saw my husband being hugged by both of this couple.  It hurt when no one held me.  I felt like I had leprosy.  How can it be inappropriate to hug someone in that situation?!  It wasn't inappropriate for my friend to hug my husband.  It wasn't inappropriate for others to be held.  Just not me.  So I never cried after that first night when I sobbed and no one even so much as put a comforting hand on my shoulder.  I bottled my feelings because I wasn't allowed to be held and comforted.  I felt dirty, like no one held me because of my past, and that hurt.

When we got home, it was chaos and more pain.  When we went to church, people grabbed my husband and hugged him, happy to see him.  I stood back and watched, smiling.  I was happy to see him, too.  I understood that people needed to hug him, to feel him, to know that he was really real and there.  No one ever thought if it is appropriate or not to hug him - that would have been silly!  They all wanted to just touch him and hold him.  It was wonderful.

Except that no one held me.  Not then, not later.

I can't really cry and process that load of emotions without being held.  Especially after they got bottled up because of the conflict that happened during the week of recovery and the horrible, botched team "debriefing" that happened as soon as we got back.

Then life went on.  Day after day, week after week, month after month.  I could not unpack the pain of those bottled up emotions.  I couldn't cry, but I wanted to.  But time had gone by,  and everyone was happy for us.  We were happy for us, too.  But part of my healing process got paused way back when people chose not to comfort me.... back when no one came, back when no one held me, back when no one stopped the attacks on me in the team "debriefing".  And I couldn't cry.  I felt abandoned, rejected, and uncared for.  Dirty.  Too dirty to hug.

Then came this odd meeting with this one man who understood trauma.  He had lived through it himself.  And he did the most interesting thing.  He did not say much, like I said, there was no gem of wisdom there.  He not only heard and understood the feelings of pain, confusion, abandonment that are all tied up in trauma, but he reached out and held me.  He didn't just give me a quick hug, but he held me, standing there holding me and talking quietly to me.  He cried with me and held me.  (I still wonder what the poor guy picking him up thought!)

A hug is never inappropriate in trauma.  I needed to be held.  A year and a half of feeling jittery and antsy fell away as someone took time to hold me.  And I slept after that, deeply.

I don't know what this post will sound like, but I am simply sorting my way through the changes that have come in the last weeks, the quiet turn of the corner towards peace.  I am tracing God's hand in these strange meetings.  He wasn't done yet, but this was a critical one.  I had needed to be held, and I hadn't been.  It was an unusual choice, but God sent someone to do just that.

Interestingly, he did not just hold me, but he talked, and what he said countered some of those awful lies that were hard to get rid of in the aftermath of the pain of people not responding when I was hurting.  Instead of dealing with the crisis and any secrets to coping, he just told me that God had made me beautiful, that I was valued, and meant to be cherished.  Interesting things, but what he said stood in stark contrast to the lies that the wounds of being left alone had given a place to grow.

I told my husband about the meeting, and his response was, "I'm so glad he was able to hug you!"  He was so glad even that later having coffee with friends of both that man and ours, he mentioned it to them.  "It was really special that he got to meet us and to give my wife a hug."  It mirrored his response when I told him that my son's teacher and my neighbor had come over to hug me.  "I am so glad they did!  I am so glad someone gave you a hug when I couldn't."

Laughter is good for the soul, being held and being heard are critical in being healed.  That is what I learned that weekend.

It was late, but late is better than never!

Still God wasn't done.  He had two more chance meetings up His sleeve.  But I had finally stopped carrying my bucket of tears and was more at rest.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Ministry of Eating Chocolate

Somehow, even though I should have felt better after that conversation at lunch, I didn't.  I was still restless and irritated.  Feeling the weight again of that bucket of tears that I had bottled up during the week of recovery where no one listened and I was left alone to carry my emotions.  When I need to cry and I can't, I get really, really irritated, and I start pushing all people away.  I need to be held, to be heard, and I had been told to be quiet, told I had done things wrong, left alone, and then just got caught up in all the busyness of other people's trauma, legitimately! but still being busy with that did not heal the unhealed wounds.  It just set them aside for a later date.

I left the meetings because I wasn't really needed there and went to a location that had been home to me for a few years.  There I had friends and planned to just rest and walk and have a few days break.  I arrived just in time for a prayer meeting- these people believe in prayer!  I shared one request for someone else, something urgent.  After the meeting, a young woman who I did not know came over, sat behind me, leaned forward and wrapped her arms around me as I rested my head on the chair.  She just held me and prayed and then just held me while we talked.  I began to cry and told her just of the events of the last year - all the trauma one after the other and how we are tired.  It isn't easy, and even though I haven't lost faith in God, I don't have that happy-go-lucky assurance that "everything will be fine".  I grew up as an MK.  I know that God does not always keep harm from us.  And the problem is that when bad things happen to people we love,  IT HURTS!

She just held me.  She held me and talked and listened.  I began to relax.

The next day, I met a good friend of ours who had been through a severe illness which left him incapacitated.  We talked - both of us glad to see each other for the first time, both of us having prayed often for each other.  But then we began to talk about the real side of traumatic experiences... about the pressure from others to "be fine", to "be thankful", to....   It isn't that we aren't.  It is just that these events changed us in a dramatic way, and it is hard to cope with that change.  It happened without our permission or agreement.  It happened suddenly.  Even though for both of us, there were good endings (he is getting better), it has been TOUGH!  And it is not always easy in a Christian setting to say that.  People aren't listening for that.  There are days we are just depressed - when it looks like we should be happy.  Perhaps it is just that we both deal with crisis well at the time, but need to process it later.  Perhaps it is a normal thing - just one people watching us aren't ready to hear.  I don't know what it is, but that meeting was good for both of us.  To affirm our love for each other, our prayers and our joy in seeing God answer prayers, and also to talk honestly about what going through a crisis has been like for both of our families.  To feel normal about still dealing with the lingering after- effects.

The next day, I was eating lunch when an older friend walked in and stole my lunch out from under my nose.  she had walked into a class I had been roped into teaching at the last minute and heard about some of the events of the last year.  She said, "go change, we're going out for lunch!"  I had been playing volleyball and was all sweaty and dusty!  I am still a MK, and can shower and be presentable in less than five minutes!  We went out to a quiet place to eat, ordered food, and she sat back and said, "So, TALK!"

Ah.... why can't we do that more often?!  I shared some of our struggles - of things going on in the family, of work, of fighting through the PTSD, of the kids,.... we talked.  She said, "I should have taken you to talk when I saw you over there after the crisis, but we assumed because everything turned out ok, that you would be ok."  A common perception, I think.  It was good to be able to talk to her and to encourage her to do exactly what she was doing now with other missionaries when she meets them.  She also thanked me for telling her students to be real.  I had taken a few minutes to sit down and tell them the answer to, "If I could talk to myself back where you are now and tell myself what looking back now I wish I had known, it would be....." 

We talked and ate and drank glasses and glasses of tea and kept talking.  She was able to hash out with me the fine line between forgiveness of what went wrong and the need to advocate for change.  Both are important, and yet neither can be done well without the other.  I have admired this woman and her wisdom since I was a teen, and to have those hours with her undivided attention were wonderful.  Also knowing I have her prayers for what I am struggling through was huge.

That evening, I invited myself over to another house where I used to babysit as a teen.  The little newborn who spent his first time away from his mom vigorously sucking on the tip of my finger now towers above me.  His sister who used to stand in her crib shooting me disapproving looks as I rocked her brother biked home from her job as a chef and sat down to eat her mom's cookies and drink coffee with me late that evening.  We laughed and cried and curled up and ate chocolate together.  Never underestimate the ministry of eating chocolate together late at night!

The next morning, I stopped in at one last house - another good friend who happens right now to be the busy mother of many kids.  We ate day old donuts and drank more coffee and talked.  Here is a place, because I have lived here as a teen, and am known well, that I relax and can trust.

As I left my friend's house, she smiled at me and said, "Ellie, you are always such an encouragement to me.  I know where you've come from and to see you now and see what God is doing... it encourages me never to give up on people."  I smiled because she did know me.  Then I grinned and said, "Well, it is because both God and I are too stubborn to give up!"  She laughed and agreed that that was likely the truth.

I left comforted.  Taken back in by people that are family to me, held, listened to, able to share the deeper struggles, had friends to eat chocolate with, played volleyball like I was 20 again, laughed, and heard.

Being there reminded me that no matter how much certain people had failed us, God had not failed us.  He had people like these - who were intimately involved during the crisis, and who were able to comfort me and hear me later.  These people are as close to a home as I will ever likely have - something consistent, stable, and available where I am known, but loved.

That side trip was a blessing of these meetings.  I left there more whole than I had been in quite awhile.

Friday, November 4, 2011

That Wasn't Right

We visited with many people at these meetings.  It is still hard for me do walk around and greet people and smile and act friendly when I really struggle with their smiles.  "If you really care about us like you say you do, where were you?  Why were we left alone in crisis and alone in recovery?"  I also have a burning desire to see that this does not happen again.  Of course, this country was not responsible for us, so I wasn't so angry with them... just hurt and hoping they have something, anything in place so people are cared for.

But I walked and smiled through that first day.  At lunch, we ate with a small group, and after lunch all the men left and I was alone with one other woman.  We started to talk, and she listened.  I told her that I am struggling being here with people from my mission after what happened last year.  She ended up being one of the right people to talk to as she is involved in member care.  She said they are supposed to have stuff set up so this doesn't happen and so people don't get left alone in a crisis.  She was sad to see that it hadn't worked and said she would look into seeing what can be improved.

That was good.  All I needed was for someone to admit, "that wasn't right, let's do better."

Or at least, that was all I thought I needed.  God had some other plans.

A Very Long Drive

When we arrived back home, we were busy with all these meetings.  I stayed home and cooked for our team meetings.  I have in the past managed to cook and also attend at least some of the meetings, but this year I chose not to sit in any of them.  I didn't sit in any of the spring meetings, either.  I just haven't been able to sit in a room of these people meeting again... not since that awful day when they verbally attacked my husband and I when we were wounded.  I just haven't been able to be in a meeting with them.

This year, we had half our meetings here and half of them in a nearby country.  We left for a 19 hr drive early one morning.  My husband had asked me to come along just for a rest and a chance to spend some time with him.  We left early one morning - me in a vehicle with two of the men who were in that awful "debriefing" meetings a year and a half ago.  I have trouble being in a room with them.  Our field leader is not so bad - he came back and apologized for not stopping all that had happened. He was also the only one person from our mission headquarters who phoned me during that awful four days.  He was overseas, but did phone in and at least gave me a little comfort and information as to what was happening "over there" and who was working on it.

Our project director had done none of that.  He had basically picked up the phone and told me, "Well, your husband is gone missing.  I'll let you know if I hear anything more. Bye."  That was the extent of emotional support I got from him.  Later, we got scolded for not doing things the way he wanted - he didn't want me to fly to meet my husband and told me that I wasn't being a good mother for leaving my kids then.  He phoned and wanted to talk to my husband at all hours of the day and night the first days together.  His wife scolded my husband for "messing up her plans" - as if we WANTED this to happen.  Then came the meeting where they yelled at us and told us we were not good soldiers, because "if you were in the army, you wouldn't even be allowed to see your family until you had answered ALL the questions your commanding officer had for you."  I am not in the army.  And if I HAD been in the army, I would have had the emotional support of other military wives and others in my husband's battalion because at least the army does not shoot its own wounded!  But the final straw came with our director's wife looked at me hunched over and sobbing in my chair and threw the final arrow, "see, the devil wanted to destroy the team by what he did over there and he couldn't, but now he is using you to do what he could not do there!"  All because we had said that in a future crisis, it would be good to let a family have 24hours without phone calls to heal and rest together!

Needless to say, it is hard for me to be near this man or his wife - neither of whom have apologized.  Interestingly, I got to sit in the back of the vehicle watching the director working on his laptop writing a power point on how to be a good leader.  It was ironic, and I wished I could simply shake him and ask him to read what he had written.  As the trip went on and on, I grew more and more agitated.  See, I am not a "sit back and take it" type of a person.  I prefer to deal with conflict and wrongs.  I can do it head-on, or more subtlety.  I can do it within different context, but I much prefer to just do it - deal with it and move on.  however, this man will not/can not deal with conflict.  So I have to live in a team with him.....

I sat there growing more and more agitated and irritated.  The biggest thing I have a problem with is hypocrisy.  I hate lies and pretense.  I care less what you are as long as you are what you are and do not attempt to be perfect when you aren't.  Watching what he intended to teach when I knew how he had lived was difficult.  I wanted to get out and run, to get away, to burn off steam.  But I was trapped in the back seat.  Eventually, I moved to drive instead which helped.  I thought as I drove and decided I had only two options on how to think.  Either this man is a out and out hypocrite or he is a man with a large blind spot.  I thought those two options over for awhile while I dodged potholes.  I finally came to the conclusion that despite his glaring faults and gaping blind spots, he is still a man who loves God and, I think, attempts to do right.  I also think that he may suffer from something similar to Asperger's and social situations will never be his strong point.  I told myself what I have told myself many times in my attempts to cope with him,  "You can't ask a one legged man to run a race."  Don't expect from him what is outside his capabilities.  Yes, I still believe he did wrong that needs accounting for... his actions were wrong.... but his disabilities are not "wrong".  They are a weakness of his - a blind spot, if you will, or a missing leg.  I drove and repeated that to myself, and next time I was in the back, shut my eyes and pretended to sleep so I would not have to see a man writing words that I wish he would live by.

But it opened wounds, and I arrived at our meetings again hurting and raw.  Being there among so many others in our mission was difficult.  Where were they when we hurt?  They knew about it, but were silent.  We heard nothing.  That also left me hurting.  In fact, as I began to process some of this over the last weeks, that key became important to look at and face.

But God was just beginning His appointments.  I think He chose to open up some of that hurt in order to prepare me for His appointments.

Small Steps

The first was a meeting we were in in July.  A woman I had never even dreamed of running into was there.  So fun to meet her and her husband!  We talked later a little, the four of us.  When our husband's left, she turned to me and said, "Sometimes I think it was harder for the family at home than it was for us there."  I don't usually "burst into tears" unless I am angry or frustrated.  I am more of a "slow leak" person :)  but I began to cry.  Slowly, tears fell one after the other, running quietly down my face while we both attempted to watch a movie that didn't make sense even if we were trying to follow it.  We began to talk.  She asked how our debriefing went, and I told her the truth - "They only debriefed the men.  I have never been debriefed yet."  She was stunned.  Shocked.  And sad.  It was the beginning.  The first person that told me I was allowed to hurt, that admitted that it had been hard for us.  We cried together.  We told each other our stories - not only of the traumas, but of the fun things in our lives... having never met but knowing of each other for years.  Quickly filling in about ten year's gap.  She left that next night, but it had been good.

She gave me permission to hurt. 

The next steps began at  our home town with just admitting it to a few people.  "We're not all better yet."  What a relief to be able to say that!  We have been so busy dealing with other people's trauma that we just had to set our own struggles down, and time went by.... people assumed we were fine.

Telling out story.  We had before once or twice.  But usually my husband's story.  His was the story, his was the events.... rarely people might ask me a question or two... but his story.  Our home church listened better.  A few times, I got to tell parts of my story.  I think this summer, too, was the time my husband began to realize that I had a story and that I had never been debriefed.  That fact went into our "next time" file.

I think one of the things that I scold myself the most for during the crisis and recovery is trusting this part to others.  Everything else, I did myself.  I did things well.  Not to be proud, but I did.  This one detail, I left to another person, and to this day, I wished I hadn't.  It was poorly done.  I didn't object because I had assumed the person doing it was smarter than me.  I regret leaving that job in another's hands, and would not do it again.

Another thing that blessed me was a friend who watched our children this summer.  When we came to pick them up, she said something to me.  Something about how during all the events, she thought of me more, and the pain that would have been involved in being a mother during that time.  We later went out for coffee and I told her the whole story - the trauma, and the traumatic "recovery" time.

Learning to talk about it.  It began to help.  But it also brought fresh tears.  The stark pain of those meetings where people were angry with us when we were hurting.  The things they said.  The total lack of any care in the weeks afterward.  Being placed in a position where we, as team leaders, had to comfort and care for others for the trauma that we went through.  The complete silence of our mission as if nothing more had happened than we had gotten a common cold.  It is in these events that the pain lies the deepest - not the trauma itself, but the "recovery" phase that went all so wrong.  Therein lies the deepest wounds.  Those wounds were not addressed by our home church listening to our story because we did not tell this story... how can you tell this?  But still, it was a relief to have ears for the part of the story we had words for.

And my friend over a cup of coffee outside with sparrows chirping by our feet heard the whole story.

We came back better, but not good.  Able to recognize that we were still healing, that we were struggling to overcome PTSD.  It was a few small steps in the right direction.

But God had more in mind...  gentle steps to address what went wrong.  I still maintain that I could have survived the trauma with minimal assistance.... it was the botched recovery that was is so difficult to heal from.  My husband thinks the same.  We both still carry the wounds of those days.

Getting to My Feet

I've not blogged or even written or talked with friends much recently.  Part of that reason is simply busyness, but that is only a small part.  I've been busier before and managed to blog and stay connected.

Another part is that I feel a profound sense of being disconnected.

Some of this is normal for this time of year and the events going on.  We melted into our "home" when we were on home assignment, and leaving again was difficult.  We arrived here to some chaos (normal, isn't it?).  We had our annual team meetings which are awkwardly scheduled over our first weeks home, the kid's first weeks in school, and my birthday - adding to the general sense of chaos.  Our team meetings remain difficult for me as they bring me face to face with people and an organization which badly handled the trauma we've been through... furthering my sense of disconnect.  I still struggle here - flashbacks, pain, and a deep sense of aloneness.

However, in and among the different meetings that we held and ones that we had to travel to were some interesting crossing of paths with people.  Proof to me that God continues to care, to see, and to work towards healing.

I think this summer was the first time my husband and I had healed enough to actually state what should have been obvious to us - we're suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.  I know, I know, I should have known that by now, but that is the whole thing about suffering from it - it numbs the mind.  This summer, surrounded by the love and ears of our home church, we began to heal enough to realize that we are hurting.

For us, it is not easy.  Both my husband and I have survived serious trauma as children - different things, but trauma nevertheless.  PTSD, unlike chicken pox, seems easier to catch the second time around. 

We focused so much on surviving that first year - surviving the day to day life with our unique team and their unique responses to the events, surviving as a family and watching our children to see how they were, surviving as a couple - knowing how much we could and couldn't talk to each other about it at any given time, surviving as members of an mission group and trying to come to terms with what did and did not happen and how we should respond to it all.

We survived.  The year was not easy.  It was full of other tragedies, watching others suffer, difficult things which took our energy to deal with and help in.  There was no time to stop and ask, "How am I doing with this load?"  It wasn't really a year to heal - just to survive wave after wave of fresh trauma.

It is over.... we hope.  It seems quiet.  We hope.  I know there are other things going on, but as bad as this sounds, we are not paying attention to every story we hear right now.  We are trying now, now that it is quiet, to recover.

Part of that was realizing that we are suffering from these lovely four letters - PTSD.  It is actually a relief to be able to say that to each other, to others.  To acknowledge it.  To have a framework for the lingering struggles we have.  To be able to look towards the steps out of it.

It is a relief, too, to see God orchestrating these special crossing of paths.  A relief because it is proof that we are not invisible to Him.  Proof that God is able to care even when people fail.  That fact alone brings comfort and tears.  Tears because there is real pain involved in much of this.  Comfort because I see God beginning to work, and the relief is similar to the relief shown on a child's face when they catch sight of their parent looking for them after they were lost in a store.

He's still here.  And in the middle of all the trauma that has swirled around us over these last years, He's looking for us in the mist.  That brings relief.

I don't know the path out.  I've never set out on this journey before.  It is frightening.  I'm confused.  But I have confidence in the One who has come looking for me.  I've walked with Him out of other pain, too.  I'm not out yet by a long shot, but I am getting to my feet.